Spotlight on Elisa Balabram

I am happy to feature coach, entrepreneur, and author Elisa Balabram and her novelette ebook, Mending a Broken Heart: Lili’s Magic Journey.

Here’s Elisa!

elisapictureI remember making up stories as a teenager to entertain my little sister but I never wrote them down. Since I didn’t excel much in essay writing in school, and I exceled and loved math, I ended up pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. A few years after graduation, my desire to write and express myself grew, and I started working on my first novel before I moved to the U.S. The file of the novel was accidentally deleted from my computer and never published. It took me a while to recover from the loss of that first book, which I had written in my first language – Portuguese, and a few years later, I started writing in English a non-fiction book about living abroad, which was also never published.

After I got my MBA in New York, I launched an online magazine for women business owners, and with it, my career as a non-fiction writer. I wasn’t yet ready to venture into fiction again, so in 2009, I published my first book (the third I had written), a self-help business book called “Ask Others, Trust Yourself – The Entrepreneurial Woman’s Key to Success”. I received inspiration to write this book based on my experience coaching aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs.

When I faced a heartbreak a few years ago, I decided to write a fiction story on mending a broken heart. I wrote it as part of my own healing journey, and I knew I’d like to publish it someday to inspire others, and give a deeper meaning to my journey. The process of publishing it in December 2014 made me very vulnerable, for a couple of reasons. First, I wrote a fiction story that was based on a true story, and my own healing journey, and I felt exposed. Second, I was known as a business writer until then, although I had been adding self-love articles to my blog for about a year.

The feedback I’ve been receiving from those who read my new novelette ebook “Mending a Broken Heart: Lili’s Magic Journey”, reassures me that publishing it was worthwhile as it is helping others in their own heart healing journey.



After having her heart broken by Prince Charming, Lili goes on a journey of self-discovery, self-love and spiritual growth. She reaches out for help from friends and connects with her Higher Self and her guides. Lili’s magic journey takes her on new adventures and, more importantly, takes her deeper within to realize who she truly is, and to learn to fully embody her power. Lili also teaches Love Classes and as you read them, you can follow the exercises to experience more self-love in your life and to heal your own heart.

If you’ve ever experienced heart break, let Lili’s journey inspire you to create your own self-love and healing adventure.



Elisa Balabram is an Intuitive Business and Life Coach and the Author of “Ask Others, Trust Yourself: The Entrepreneurial Woman’s Key to Success”, and “Mending a Broken Heart: Lili’s Magic Journey”. Her main mission is to share her own self-discovery, spiritual, healing, out of her comfort zone, challenging at times and magical journey with women to empower them to go for it, achieve their full potential, pursue their life’s purpose, and business dreams. In addition to providing one-on-one business coaching, Elisa Balabram hosts webinars, 7-week programs, and in person workshops to help women uncover and pursue their full potential.

She founded and published an online magazine for women business owners from 2003 to 2012, archives of the interviews can be found at Between 2004 and 2012 she was the director of the SBA Women’s Business Center: in the Bronx for three years and in Brooklyn for five years.

Ms. Balabram was named the U.S. Small Business Administration New York District 2008 Women in Business Champion of the Year. She is currently an adjunct lecturer at Baruch College, teaching entrepreneurial and Family Business Management classes to undergraduate BBA students.

Prior to moving to New York, she assisted in running her family’s business (Coffee shop and chocolate business) in Brazil.

She holds an MBA in Entrepreneurship Management from Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, CUNY, and a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. Through her own self-love quest, she worked with therapists, coaches and mentors, she became a Reiki Master and she continues to grow and focus on self-love on a daily basis.

Where to find Elisa…

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Spotlight on Kim Hotzon

I am happy to feature Soul Mate author Kim Hotzon and her new release, Hands Full of Ashes. Prepare for an adventure-filled ride that spans three continents.

Here’s Kim!

kimhotzonTwenty five years ago, I boarded a plane (I do that a lot, it seems). My purpose for travelling to Japan was to teach English. I was quickly in over my head. The problem was that I did not have any money, nor did I have sponsorship, which would allow me to stay in the country. I bounced from one youth hostel to another and soon I became ill. After many hospital visits I was given varying diagnoses including (correctly) a kidney infection and severe stress, and (incorrectly) appendicitis and heart disease. After a visit with the Consulate General at the Canadian embassy and his personal physician, I eventually recovered. I found a job teaching English in Osaka and I remained in Japan for two years. Upon my return to Canada I began writing my memoir, When the Cherry Blossoms Fall: My Life as an English Teacher in Japan.

Fast forward two decades. I now had accomplished many things: a marriage, children and a thriving career at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. One morning, I opened up the local newspaper and read an article. A woman was looking for a group of volunteers to travel to Rwanda to work on a project assisting genocide survivors. I felt an instant connection, a need to go. I boarded a plane for Africa. My family were shocked and scared. I was excited and about to fulfill a life-long dream. Naturally, Africa changed my life. How could it not? I was inspired once again to write. This time, what developed was not a memoir, but a fictional love story. I called it Hands Full of Ashes.

I began the long road toward publication. My learning curve was rapid and very steep. I posted part of my work online and began to receive compliments and critiques. I was approached by a well-known Canadian author who also works as an editor on the side. She did the initial editing on the manuscript. I spent months researching agents and how to write a query letter. I enlisted beta-readers to provide feedback. I kept editing. Rewriting. Editing some more. I began to send out query letters. Many of them. I had several agents show interest, but they would not commit. Seems my story was hard to pin down into a specific genre. The prevailing response was, ‘Love your writing and your voice, but what genre is this?’

I was contacted by Deborah Gilbert, the editor of Soul Mate Publishing. She suggested a different ending. I was finally ready to consider making changes. I re-wrote the ending and in the same week I had two requests from two different publishers who were offering a contract. A third was interested and considering the manuscript. I nearly fell off my chair. I chose Soul Mate Publishing. Believe it or not, their tag line and website were part of the reason I made that decision. I was looking for professionalism and a good fit for the genre of my story. The other reason was purely based on an intuitive feeling.

Hands Full of Ashes is to be released on January 14, 2015. I am now working on my next novel, another love story, but this romance veers into historical and fantasy territory. Writing is definitely hard work. However, if it’s something that you feel called to do, you can’t imagine not doing it. My advice for new writers – do not give up. Ever.



Olivia promises to fulfill her dying husband’s wish – to scatter his ashes around the world. Wading through grief and depression, she journeys to a remote orphanage in Uganda. Living amongst the children in their threadbare surroundings, she vows to fight for the children’s lives as she begins to fight for her own. While Olivia develops a passion for humanitarian work, the lonely director of the orphanage develops a simmering passion for her.

Just as time begins to heal the wounds of her heart, Olivia learns the truth of her husband’s unimaginable betrayal. She flees to the tiny country of Rwanda where her soul is reawakened with a startling new love. Olivia realizes that love always comes with a price when she is faced with a decision she thought she would never have to make.
Surrounded by the rugged beauty of Africa, Olivia is determined to find true love while learning how to survive in a region left torn apart by civil war.



Born in beautiful British Columbia, Kim developed a passion for writing at an early age. Her interest in people led her all over the globe, including a two year stay in Japan and a humanitarian trip to Rwanda.

She loves to write romance stories with a twist, usually involving a dangerous and dramatic backdrop. Her first novel, Hands Full of Ashes, was inspired by her trip to Africa.

Kim spent many years teaching young adults with learning disabilities at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and she currently resides in the sunny Okanagan with her husband and two children. When not writing, she can be found plying the local ski hills, or getting lost in her kayak in the surrounding lakes.

Where to find Kim…

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | LinkedIn

More Blessed


If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the millions who will not survive the week.

If you have never experienced the dangers of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people around the world.

If you attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed than almost 3 billion people in the world.

If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head, and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish some place, you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.

If you can read this message, you are more blessed than over 2 billion people in the world who cannot read anything at all.

If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful, you are blessed because the majority can, but most do not.


Tackling Table Topics

toastmastersDuring the Table Topics session of each meeting, I take note of all well-crafted responses. While most toastmasters use personal anecdotes relevant to the topic, others like to start with a quotation that touches on the theme.

I enjoy reading and collecting inspirational quotations, but I don’t think I could come up with the most appropriate one in the space of forty to sixty seconds. And truthfully, I don’t want to waste precious seconds trying to recall a specific quotation.

When I expressed this concern to several seasoned toastmasters, they advised me to memorize a few short, all-purpose quotations that could be used to begin almost any impromptu topic. And not to worry about the author’s name. Simply start with “This reminds me of my favorite quotation…”

My list

Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud. Maya Angelou

Be the change that you wish to see in the world. Mahatma Gandhi

Don’t wait. The time will never be just right. Napoleon Hill

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Eleanor Roosevelt

Tough times never last, but tough people do. Dr. Robert Schuller

Change your thoughts and you change your world. Norman Vincent Peale

Keep your face to the sunshine and you can never see the shadow. Helen Keller

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Wayne Gretzky

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Neale Donald Walsch

Don’t follow the crowd, let the crowd follow you. Margaret Thatcher

Do you have a favorite quotation? Please share…

An Extraordinary Ordinary Life

Welcome to my Second Acts Series!

Today, we have author Susan Van Kirk sharing her rich and varied life experiences and introducing her debut novel, Three May Keep a Secret.

Here’s Susan!

susanvankirkI have lived an extraordinary, ordinary life. It has been ordinary in the sense that I grew up and never permanently moved more than twenty miles from my home town. I married, divorced, and raised three children; I taught 4,000 high school and college students over forty-four years; and now I am starting a Second Act as a writer. That would be the ordinary part. Extraordinary applies when I look back and see the blessings and people who have come into my life and made it richer in so many ways.

But it took more than one turn in the road to reach my Second Act.

Born right after World War II, I grew up in a world where women had few choices, and to marry was a lofty life goal. I mention this because today that stifling world seems so far away, but my generation and my thoughts were certainly shaped by that culture. I chose to be a teacher—a mundane choice given the times—but, in actuality, to be a teacher was all I ever wanted to do.

People would say I have had an ordinary life teaching school in a small town in west central Illinois. I married right out of college, and five years later I began having children. But when that marriage fell apart, I was thrown into a turbulent time of raising children myself, working full time on a small salary, and struggling with bills. Teaching high school students and helping them with their own struggles restored me. It gave my life meaning and put it back in balance. Eventually, I got on my feet financially, often working summer jobs to make ends meet, and my children went off to college.

After the last child left for college, I went to graduate school for an advanced degree. It was a scary proposition, living on my own in a university town and knowing no one. After all, I had left my parent’s house to reside in my husband’s house, and then I had stayed there raising children. But I discovered I loved my new-found freedom, and I finished in three summers. This degree enabled me to teach on the college level, and I left a high school job I’d loved and taught college students who wondered if they might want to be teachers. I enjoyed helping future teachers see a profession that might give meaning to their lives as it had mine. Eventually, it was time to retire, so in 2011, I left teaching.

Then, what to do? Because of my age I have spoken to people who decide—gnashing their teeth—that it’s time to retire, but they aren’t sure what to do with that time. I was never one of those people.


Act II began, but it had its roots in Act I.

Back in 2006, I told a story in my education class, an inspirational story about how a college friend of mine who had died in Viet Nam had literally reached through my life and helped a student of mine find direction in his own life. I did, and still do, believe that teaching puts a person in a situation where she can influence lives forever in a positive way. One of my college students said I should put that story in writing, so I did, and Teacher Magazine published it. I had a good time writing “War and Remembrance,” and the magazine also put an audio file of my voice reading my story on their website.

And then the extraordinary happened. From all parts of the country and even abroad, I heard from former students I hadn’t seen in years. After all, now we had the internet. One of them wrote, “I heard your voice and it was just like coming home.” They touched my heart again. Encouraging me to put more stories in writing, they reminded me of conversations we’d had, and moments when our lives had intersected in extraordinary ways.

And so I wrote a memoir, in 2010, called The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks), a book about the realities of classroom teaching. I used fifteen stories from those years, some of them stranger than fiction, some of them sad, and some of them funny. While I was writing, I contacted former students who helped with the details and convinced me I was remembering correctly. And each exchange was a gift. As I look back on those stories now, they document an extraordinary life, a life that did—in a humble way—have an influence on the lives of others. That book led to Act II.

A month ago in December, 2014, Five Star Publishing produced my first cozy mystery, Three May Keep a Secret. Not surprisingly, it is the story of a high school English teacher, Grace Kimball, who lives in a small town called Endurance. She often sees her former students, and the reader laughs at what she remembers about their crazy antics in high school. But it is, after all, a murder mystery, and I have had to research and interview police chiefs, coroners, detectives, fire chiefs, and doctors. I’ve learned a whole new vocabulary of death in my new act. My main character, Grace Kimball, is a warm, interesting person, but she finds herself in the middle of a scary, dark place when the murderer sets his/her sights on Grace. She is also haunted by a past event, and her memory of this will not let her go. Five Star has now picked up my second mystery in the Endurance series, Marry in Haste, for 2016, and I am currently starting the third.

Act II is funny and fulfilling. I love talking to audiences, giving out surprise door prizes, and listening to the many people who come to book signings. I also feel happiest when I’m neck deep in research and trying to figure out how to solve a plot problem. Now, instead of teaching people, I’m entertaining them. But I’m still remaining true to what I did for forty-four years: I’m getting people to read. Between Pinterest, Facebook, GoodReads, and my website, I hear from many of those people whose lives mingled with mine, and I am gratified to think that I have led an ordinary life, but in many ways it has been blessed with extraordinary riches.

And, I’m laughing my way through Act II.

ThreeMayKeepASecretFront (2)


Grace Kimball, recently retired teacher in the small town of Endurance, Illinois, is haunted by a dark, past event, an experience so terrifying she has never been able to put it behind her.

When shoddy journalist, Brenda Norris, is murdered in a suspicious fire, Grace is hired by the newspaper editor, Jeff Maitlin, to fill in for Brenda, researching the town’s history. Unfortunately, that past hides dark secrets. When yet a second murder occurs, Grace’s friend, T.J. Sweeney, a homicide detective, races against time to find a killer. Even Grace’s life will be threatened by her worst nightmare.

Against a backdrop of the town’s 175th founder’s celebration, Grace and Jeff find an undeniable attraction for each other. But can she trust this mystery man with no past?


Where to find Susan…

Website/Blog | Facebook | Pinterest | Goodreads

Joanne here!

Susan, thank you for sharing your inspiring and motivating experiences. The storyline for Three May Keep a Secret sounds delicious. I’m putting it on my TBR list.

Just Walk Away


It sounds so simple and so easy, but it takes guts to give up your idea (or someone else’s) of the “perfect life” and change direction. This is especially true if you or a close relative has invested time and money into a venture that once fitted your vision.

Walking away from any well-worn path can be a long and painful struggle for everyone involved. It helps to be surrounded by supportive family and friends, but ultimately the decision to change direction is yours and yours alone. Before embarking on this difficult and challenging journey, take time to reflect on your present situation and ask yourself the hard questions:

What do you really want?

Are you prepared to choose courage over comfort? By the way…you can’t have both.

If you need inspiration, follow the journeys of twelve high achievers who took time to reflect upon their less-than-desirable situations, make the decisions to leave, and then launch spectacular second acts.


My Word for 2015

12082747_sThis past week, many of my online friends announced their words for 2015. While I had never participated in this annual exercise, I realized (much to my surprise) that I had inadvertently stumbled upon my own word for the year.

Toward the tail end of 2014, I encountered several personal and health challenges. My first responses were negative ones that fortunately did not linger beyond a day or two. I purposely chose to end the woe-is-me talk and steer clear of “whatever” or “It is what it is.”

Instead, my thoughts gravitated toward a different word, an old-fashioned word – ONWARD. The idea of moving forward, despite less-than-desirable circumstances, inspired me to consult other health professionals, tweak habits, and jump-start a prolonged writer’s block.

While many of my issues have been resolved, I have chosen to keep ONWARD as my go-to word for 2015, maybe even longer.


Have you selected a word for 2015?